Arquà: Petrarch’s Hilltop Retreat

March 12, 2014 / Places
Arqua' Petrarca, Veneto
Arquà: Petrarch's Hilltop Retreat | ©Tom Palladio Images

Whenever we look back on history — pick a period, it really doesn’t matter — there are always amazing footnotes tucked inside the narrative that credit one individual over all others of the time for singlehandedly pushing the envelope and dramatically turning the page on mankind’s chronology.

One such maverick was Francesco Petrarca, universally known as Petrarch.

Arquà: Petrarch's Hilltop Retreat | ©Tom Palladio Images

A 14th entury Italian scholar, writer, poet and priest from Arezzo, in the old Republic of Florence, Petrarch multitasked his way across Europe building an impressive curriculum vitae along the way.

Considered the “Father of” both Humanism and the Renaissance, Petrarch’s writing style served as the benchmark for formulating the modern Italian language. He was anointed Rome’s poet laureate, conceptualized the Middle Ages as being totally in the Dark [Ages], and served as a roving ambassador-advisor to a prince, a pontiff, a king and an emperor. He ranks right up there alongside Homer, Dante, Shakespeare and Goethe, and is considered our first-known tourist as he travelled extensively just for leisure.

After a satchel filled with countless safe-passage documents, stamped, folded and presented many times over, Petrarch finally called it quits on his “road warrior” days, hung up his laurel wreath and laid out the welcome mat on his permanent digs in a medieval hilltop village nestled among the Euganean Hills in the Veneto: Arquà Petrarca.

Arquà: Petrarch's Hilltop Retreat | ©Tom Palladio Images

And that’s where we are, on the cobblestone heading up the lane to visit the house where the creator of the sonnet once slept.

Arquà: Petrarch's Hilltop Retreat | ©Tom Palladio Images

Petrarch’s permanent abode is a gorgeous understated retreat that’s the result of merging two pre-existing buildings on two different levels.

Arquà: Petrarch's Hilltop Retreat | ©Tom Palladio Images

When the writer-thinker-diplomat decided to settle in Arquà, he turned in his priestly garb and began in earnest to transform the house, gifted to him by a wealthy friend, raising part of the first floor and adding on a study where he would spend the final chapter of his life organizing his sonnets and letters and transcribing more deep thoughts to shake up the world.

Fronted by a small, well-manicured garden surrounded by a high stone-and-brick wall, the house, as seen today, is the result of various refurbishing work started after Petrarch’s death.

Arquà: Petrarch's Hilltop Retreat | ©Tom Palladio Images

Inside the retreat, on the piano nobile — sorry, but photography beyond the threshold of any kind is not permitted — visitors can take a quiet “open house” stroll.

Arquà: Petrarch's Hilltop Retreat | ©Tom Palladio Images

Meander through rooms named Metamorphosis, Venus, Cleopatra and Visions, with its well-preserved frieze depicting seven scenes from Petrarch’s Song of Visions, and then stop long enough to spy the glass-enclosed study where Petrarch wrote and meditated.

Back outside, head downstairs to the ground floor to visit the small museum, screen the short documentary, and pay your respects in front of the embalmed remains of the poet laureate’s cat.

Arquà: Petrarch's Hilltop Retreat | ©Tom Palladio Images

Arquà — one of only 206 locales around the Bel Paese designated as a Borghi più belli d’Italia (The most beautiful villages of Italy), and one of only 199 that waves the prestigious Bandiera Arancione (Orange Flag) of the Touring Club of Italy — is home to just under 1,900 residents and drips medieval.

Arquà: Petrarch's Hilltop Retreat | ©Tom Palladio Images

If you ever find yourself roaming around the picturesque Euganean Hills, make sure you stop in Arquà Petrarca and steal a glimpse into the life of an ingenious, multifaceted man who single-handedly rewrote history: Petrarch.

Closed on Mondays and major holidays, Petrarch’s house is open all other mornings from 9:00 – 12:30, and the cost is reasonable at €4.00 ($5.25 USD) for a standard ticket, €2.00 ($2.60 USD) reduced. It’s located at 4 Via Valleselle. For more information, call the custodian at +39 0429-718294.

by Tom Weber

Tom is a veteran print-broadcast journalist who resides in the Colli Euganei (Euganean Hills) in the province of Padova in the Veneto region of northestern Italy. He hosts the eclectic travel/foodie/photography blog The Palladian Traveler.com, is a regular contributor to Los Angeles-based TravelingBoy.com, and is a member of the International Travel Writers Alliance. Feel free to follow Tom as he “meanders along the cobblestone to somewhere.”

26 Responses to “Arquà: Petrarch’s Hilltop Retreat”

  1. Pat Carney Ceccarelli
    Pat Carney Ceccarelli

    Opportune reminder to read Petrarch! Thank you Tom for your beautifully written, wonderfully photographed post.

    Reply
  2. Tom, I enjoy your letters so much that before I’m even finished, I’m pulling up Google to further look into the people, places and things you talk about. I love your stuff. Keep writing…

    Reply
  3. Julia Viazmenski

    Lovely post, thank you! One clarification: while surely the most famous Italian to have written them, Petrarca did not “create” the sonnet. It existed before him and is thought to have been developed by the Sicilian poet , Giacomo da Lentini. In addition to Wilkins’s seminal study of 1959, I recommend heartily Christopher Kleinhenz’s book The Early Italian Sonnet (Milella, 1986).

    Reply
    • Julia — I stand corrected da Lentini’s sonnet work was later transported and employed by Guittone of Arezzo, which is how it found its way to young Petrarch, who then fine-tuned it and everyone else, including Shakespeare, followed Petrarch’s lead. Aside from the lame fact check, glad you enjoyed the read.

      Reply
  4. We stumbled upon this a few years ago while staying in the Veneto. Wonderful find! And I especially loved the mummified cat in the wall . . . Thanks, Tom.

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  5. JAmes S. Puliti

    I never cease to stop learning(at 88 yrs) Thanks Tom for shedding much light on Petrach

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  6. It is already on my “local places to visit” list when my sister arrives in July! And I look forward to more of your informative notes on other wonders in the area.

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  7. I visited the Euganean Hills in 2011, and spent a beautiful week walking through there. The area is not well known to tourists, and has lots of cultural treasures. Petrarch’s house in Arqua is well worth a visit. His autobiography starts with a modest statement that he is not sure if it will still be read in a few years after his death. Well, 600-ish years later it was read by a woman in New Zealand (me) a country that was not even discovered by Europeans at that time, which prompted me to visit Arqua. Petrarch’s works are still as fresh as when he wrote them. Thanks for the article, Tom.

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  8. Dr.Albert Pizzi

    Ciao Tom, first time writer but have followed your blog for some time love the detail of your blog.We have something in common I lived in Vicenza for 4 years as a dentist with my family in the USARMY what a beautiful city to visit and live in fond memories of that area wonderful surrounding towns my daughter was born on base and carries dual citizenship what a life you must have i remember going to BASSANO MAROSTICA PADUA and skiing to dolamites.We travel to Italy every year in the fall( september) this year to Pedmonte cant wait to go Auguri e Saluti . Doctore Pizzi

    Reply
    • Dottore — Depending on when you were posted at Caserma Ederle, we may have bumped into each other on post, or at least you may have listened or seen me on radio and TV when I was a broadcaster for SEN/SEB/AFN. Enjoy your next big vacation back home here in Italy. I hope you’ll be a regular reader whenever I and the other contributors are published on IN. Ciao for now.

      Reply
  9. Sigrid D.

    Love Arqua but the cat was a disappointment….fortunately a special vino made up for it: Fiori d’arancia at the gelateria – snack bar, ALLA LOGGIA.

    Reply
  10. James Wade

    What a lovely piece on Petrarch you wrote. (I have also enjoyed your other posts.) That slender but seminal book by Roberto Weiss, THE RENAISSANCE DISCOVERY OF CLASSICAL ANTIQUITY, is a splendid appreciation of Petrarch’s essential role. Those who came later, such as Gibbon, owe him a debt. One of my continuing obsessions is what was lost and why–literature as well as architecture and art. My wife and I have rented an apartment in Rome on several occasions and my dream is to explore the remains of Rome’s empire throughout Asia Minor and beyond. I look forward to more of your informative pieces.
    Jim Wade

    Reply
    • Jim — Thanks for the compliment. Glad you enjoyed this small taste of Petrarch. Good luck in your pursuit of Roman history, an exciting journey no doubt.

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  11. thank you for bringing us up to date on Francesco Petrarca. My ancestor, Giovanni “Dondi dell’orlogio” was his physician and close friend, making the Padovan connection for Petrarca. My current location is also inhabited by 1900 folk and is also officially one of the Most Beautiful Borghi in Italia AND home to many people oddly named Petrarca (Petrarch is not exactly universal: just English speakers use this weird spelling). Was the friend who provided the Arqà house by any chance good old Giovanni (seems he was the builder of the Astrarium, which influenced Da Vinci’s ideas on mechanics; he and Petrarca took measurements of the Roman buildings in the Forum according to Roberto Weiss, thus sparking the Renaissance. So Tiso and Petrarca changed the way Europeans thought of themselves….)

    Reply
    • Ciao Francis (not Francesco?). Thanks for the detailed feedback and your direct connection to Petrarca. The person who gifted the house to Petrarca was Francesco il Vecchio da Carrara. Glad you enjoyed the note.

      Reply

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